Joe Harris Elementary Groundbreaking Ceremony

Collaboration, Partnerships, and Remembrance: Joe Harris Elementary Groundbreaking
Posted on 04/03/2019

Dignitaries break ground for Joe Harris ESConstruction of the long-awaited Joe Harris Elementary School in Rio Rancho is at last underway.  District officials, community partners, and the late Deputy Joe Harris’ family were all on hand for the formal groundbreaking ceremony on Monday, April 1.  In the photo at left below, Joe Harris' grandchildren are ready to build the school all by themselves!

Joe Harris' grandchildren shovel dirt at the groundbreakingThe occasion was a time to celebrate both the new school and the community partnerships that will create a new master-planned community and 40-acre business park in Unser Gateway on the south end of Rio Rancho.  It was also a time to remember Deputy Harris, who gave his life in the line of duty in 2009 while trying to apprehend a burglar in rural Sandoval County. 

The new school is being built at Westside Blvd. and 10th St., just east of the planned 450-home Los Diamantes subdivision.  The joint venture among the City of Rio Rancho, Rio Rancho Public Schools, the Southern Sandoval County Arroyo and Flood Control Authority (SSCAFCA), and developer Pierre Amestoy will also include drainage and flood control improvements in Unit 10, and street and utility improvements, notably on Westside Blvd. west of Unser. 

Joe Harris Elementary architects renderingThe design of the 87,630 sq. ft. school building has been updated to meet current security standards and instruction and technology support requirements.   Bradbury-Stamm Construction is the general contractor, and the project is being funded through voter-approved bonds included in the 2016 bond issue.  Construction, originally planned a decade ago, was delayed several times due to the ongoing recession and a lack of funds to operate the school. 

Joe Harris with student and therapy puppyAt the groundbreaking, School Board President Catherine Cullen, Superintendent Sue Cleveland, and Mayor Gregg Hull thanked all of the partners and reiterated that construction of the new school is just the first step in a collaborative effort that will reap dividends for the whole city.  Joe Harris’ sons, Joe Jr. and David, fondly remembered their father, and RRPS Chief Operations Officer (and former Rio Rancho Police Chief) Mike Baker and others joked about his love for food and his enormous appetite.  As a sheriff’s deputy, Harris and his faithful therapy dog Harley championed children, spending many hours in Rio Rancho schools promoting drug education, reading skills, and positive relations with law enforcement.  Dr. Cleveland especially remembers how Harley changed the life of a young girl with disabilities, motivating her to say her first words.   In the photo at left taken in 2006, Deputy Harris presents the girl with her very own therapy dog. 

Trent HeffnerRRPS has also now announced that Trent Heffner, longtime principal at Vista Grande Elementary, will become the principal at Joe Harris.  Heffner, who has also served RRPS as a teacher and as assistant principal at Mountain View Middle School, will leave Vista Grande at the end of the year, and will spend the next school year planning for the opening of the new campus.  Heffner says he is excited to be the first principal of a school named after his friend and colleague who made the ultimate sacrifice as a law enforcement officer, and is looking forward to building another great school community.  

Joe Harris Elementary is scheduled to open in the fall of 2020 and will eventually accommodate 800 students.